The reunion episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race should be overflowing with drama, and that’s exactly what we get in tonight’s episode. I was not a fan of the new reunion format when it debuted during last year’s All Stars 2, but it works much better for a fresh group of queens that hasn’t fully adjusted to post-Drag Race fame. These queens are still figuring out how to navigate life after Drag Race, and this episode is a fascinating look at them negotiating their time on the show with their experience afterward. There’s still that awkward hollowness at the start as the queens reunite in a huge theater with no one in the seats, but that quickly dissipates once the contestants start commenting about the biggest moments this season. (My ideal reunion situation would have the queens on the runway with an audience that reacts to what’s happening on stage, but I think RuPaul likes switching up the setting for this episode.)

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RuPaul makes a wise decision in structuring this episode around the major stories of this season rather than focusing on each individual queen, and while that means some of the contestants fade into the background, it creates a lot more conflict for the cameras. This also makes the episode an assessment of how well the queens can grab screen time, not unlike Untucked. Are you willing and able to speak up and get screen time by saying things that the editors will want to include? Not everyone is, and it’s not a surprise that the season’s most forgettable queens don’t have much to contribute in this episode.

RuPaul starts the reunion with reading, specifically by focusing on Alexis Michelle’s reactions to the other queens calling her out on her body image issues when they know she is sensitive about that topic. Alexis tries to defend herself by talking about how they had just discussed body image a few episodes before visiting the library, but nobody is having this excuse, especially because Alexis had no problem on calling out other queens on things that they had established they were insecure about, like Shea and her teeth.

Ru reiterates that the library is like the Friar’s Club, where people can speak openly about other people’s flaws and insecurities and everyone laughs about it, and she brings a pair of reading glasses to determine whether or not Alexis really has grown the thick skin she says she has. Trinity immediately goes for the sore spot by comparing Alexis’ body to a honey ham because that’s the kind of bitch she is, and to Alexis’ credit, she doesn’t look too rattled by it. Starting the episode off with a reading session is a very smart way of ratcheting up the drama early on, and it sets a tone that is maintained throughout the rest of the episode.

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Jaymes Mansfield gets one good read in directed at Valentina (“I had a really good read for Valentina, but I can’t remember the words”), but otherwise she doesn’t have anything to say in this episode. She’s not the only queen that is quiet, and I don’t know if it’s the editing that diminishes their roles, but Cynthia Lee Fontaine and Kimora Blac also don’t have much to say, if they say anything at all. Cynthia has so little to say in this episode that it feels like she’s not even a part of the season, and she doesn’t engage with any of the drama. She speaks when she’s handing over the Miss Congeniality trophy, but even then it’s just to say thanks to her fans.

After the reading, Ru switches gears to talk about this season’s shocking eliminations, and while some of these moments were pretty disappointing, they did make for some dramatic TV. The queens have no patience for Charlies Hides’ excuses for why she completely threw in the towel during her lip sync, and Shea in particular wastes no time shutting down Charlie’s claim that she had a broken rib that kept her from performing to the best of her ability. Charlie doesn’t fare well at all this week (the pipe cleaner “Charlie” on her head also looks cheap as hell), and she deserves all of the judgement she gets from the other queens. She has so many excuses that she can’t keep them all straight, and the only conclusion I can come to regarding Charlie is that she was ready to go home and didn’t bother to try lip syncing for her life.

Trinity and Shea may as well be sponsored by Lipton considering how much tea they serve in this episode, but I expect that from those queens. For me, the breakout star of this reunion is Farrah Moan, and I’m as surprised as everyone else. She recreates her highly .gif-able moment when Eureka was eliminated and has an epic eye roll when Alexis Michelle complains about being read for her body, but she really shines later in the episode. When asked to “Toot or Boot” Eureka’s hair loaves, Farrah says she “loaved” it, and RuPaul takes a moment to commend Farrah for successfully executing a good pun: “Y’all, Farrah just made a very funny joke and she delivered it really beautifully. Give her a big round of applause.” It’s a hilarious moment of RuPaul calling out a queen that was pretty damn boring all season, and Farrah runs with this momentum and continues to make herself stand out in a way she never did during the season.

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When RuPaul asks the queens to critique the chairs provided by one of their sponsors, Farrah says, “They’re perfect, they’re beautiful, they look like Linda Evangelista,” and it’s both a really great callback and a display of her intense resentment of Valentina, which really comes out when Valentina is named Miss Congeniality. Comments by Valentina are often followed by unimpressed reaction shots from Farrah, setting up the blow-up that occurs when Valentina gets Miss Congeniality and the $5,000 that comes with it. None of the queens are happy with Valentina earning this title, and most of that resentment comes from Valentina not being congenial. Aja is the first queen to call bullshit (of course), but everyone else is quick to jump onto the irony of the season’s most selfish queen being named the most congenial.

I had heard rumblings that Valentina was disliked by the rest of the queens, and this episode makes it very clear that they did not like her during the competition and still hold onto those feelings. The queens won’t accept Valentina’s excuses for completely botching the lip sync that got her eliminated, and with both Charlie and Valentina, you realize that putting no effort into the lip sync is an unforgivable offense. Alexis tries to stand up for Valentina, but Shea immediately shuts her down and tells her to stop trying to redeem herself to Valentina’s fans, many of whom attacked Alexis because they felt she should have offered herself up for elimination, which is a ludicrous idea. Valentina’s fans were extremely unreasonable when coming to the defense of their queen, and Valentina compares herself to Selena in trying to explain why her fans are so passionate about her. This just makes everyone else even more angry, and they come for her with their claws out for not trying to cool down a fanbase that was attacking her season 9 sisters.

Valentina is right that her elimination was a “darn good episode” that gave her a telenovela ending, but this episode reveals the dark side of her that the cameras didn’t show, but the rest of the contestants definitely saw (and are still seeing). Valentina didn’t try to do anything to stop her fans from going after her competitors on social media when she was eliminated, and while she tries to justify her distance by saying that she’s not active on social media, Shea calls her out by saying she was constantly checking her feed while they were on the promotional tour. (Shea does a lot of calling out this week and I love her for it.) Shea also brings up Valentina saying she would stand up for Nina if her fans went after her, which is another thing that never happened.

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I totally understand why Valentina would try to disconnect after suffering such a major disappointment, but when her silence is causing problems for the other queens, she should engage with her fans and tell them to stop. She did that today on her Instagram a few hours before the reunion episode aired, but it feels like her covering her ass rather than a genuine attempt to stop the attacks that have been going on for weeks now. None of this is especially congenial, and then Farrah attacks Valentina for not speaking to her for the last five months when they did everything together during the competition. Farrah’s grown herself a backbone since her time on the show, and if she was this honest and funny during the show, she probably would have gone even further.

Ultimately, the queens decide that Valentina won “fan favorite” rather than Miss Congeniality, and they aren’t wrong. Congeniality implies a certain amount of compassion and selflessness that Valentina didn’t show the other queens, and Ru doesn’t try to fight back against this. She accepts that this is how the contestants feel, but she’s not going to take this award away from Valentina. She gets the title and the money, and she’ll just have to live with the blows this delivers to her reputation. She’ll probably be fine, and at the end of the day, Valentina is still responsible for some of the most dramatic moments of the season, which makes her an invaluable player in this year’s game.

Stray observations

  • The final four queens are going to be in a lip sync showdown to determine who wins, and while I doubt it’s going to be the case, I hope the entire finale is the final four lip syncing until RuPaul makes a decision about who wins. No recaps of different queens’ arcs, just nonstop lip syncs.
  • RuPaul pronounces .gif with a hard g, so I have even more respect for her.
  • I am obsessed with Sasha’s look in this episode. The mohawk looks great, but it’s the garment that really impresses me, with a shape that distinguishes her from everyone else on stage. She looks fantastic.
  • I am so tired of the Nina Bo’Nina Brown narrative this season. She’s deeply insecure and paranoid, and she doesn’t see herself as part of the problem at all. Everything is an external threat, and RuPaul is trying so hard to convince her that the call is coming from inside the house. I hope she can find that confidence in herself to stop thinking that the world is plotting against her, but I don’t want to watch her until she gets to that point.
  • Eureka was forced to leave the competition early, so she takes advantage of this moment to reclaim some of the spotlight and is very vocal. (She also has some really great reaction shots.) I’m excited to see her come back next season, and I think we’re going to see her drag significantly elevated when she does.
  • I’m still angry that Lisa Kudrow wasn’t a guest judge and her “Ruber Black” moment doesn’t do anything to diminish those feelings. Bring back Lisa Kudrow!!!!
  • Don’t tease us with Cheyenne Jackson in assless chaps. That’s just cruel.
  • I’m a Little Mix stan (go ahead and judge me), so I’m thrilled to see Drag Race’s American Apparel girls Alaska, Courtney Act, and Willam reunited in the video for their new single, “Power.”
  • “That’s why I call you the Joan Of Arc of drag. Great ideas, badly executed.”
  • “This was a year of shocking eliminations, and I’m not talking about what goes on between you and your Squatty Potty.” RuPaul is going to keep making that Squatty Potty money however he can.
  • “That’s exactly what her reaction is when her sugar daddy takes away her credit card.”
  • “My knee’s pretty good, I’m back to suckin’ dick.”
  • “Do I look upset to you?” I hope someone turns this into a .gif so it can be used for many a social media reaction.
  • “I dont wanna say I read her, I just aggressively complimented her.”
  • “You are secretly one little bitch.”
  • “The makeup was…No. The dress was…No.” Very clever, Todrick.
  • Fortune Feimster: “I like your nails. Those are fuuuuuuun.” Michelle: “Definitely not lesbian friendly. Slicing vulvas everywhere I go.”
  • “Your hat looks like a hairy foreskin.”
  • “It kinda looks like gay birds shit on her arm.”

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